Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Never explain, never complain

May 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

Producing food is what we farmers do best – not talking to the public, says Clodhopper.

Do farmers communicate well with the public? Are we good at getting the farming message across? According to a recent conference, the answer to both questions is a resounding “No – and we should do better.”

But I am not sure this is the right answer. As farmers, by our nature we are protective of our lot. We rely on the public to consume our food – but we seldom encounter consumers because most food is bought via a retailer, not straight from the farm.

Yes, some farmers do sell direct – often via a farmers’ market or farm shop. Good communication is of the utmost importance in these cases. Traceability and provenance is important too because the shoppers these places attract like to know how their food has been reared, raised or made.

Country of origin

But that is not so in most cases. Do the vast majority of the British public really care where their food comes from? I doubt it. If they see a similar product that is 50p cheaper, they will put it in their trolley and not worry about the country of origin.

For most people, food is about price, money and their weekly spend. It is understandable and we are in danger of being hypocritical – or even biting the hand that feeds us – if we criticise consumers just because they can’t afford or choose not to buy what we produce.

After all, many of us farmers want the best deal too. Just as the public will often buy cheaper food wherever it is produced, farmers will often sell to the highest bidder – whether that means supplying the domestic market or exporting to feed mouths overseas.

We sell our grain to merchants and often we don’t know where it goes from there. Many livestock farmers don’t even go to market, choosing to supply processors direct instead. Sure there are guidelines to follow and boxes to tick – but it’s the way of the world these days.

It might give us a warm fuzzy feeling inside to think that British people want to eat British food – but farmers faced with a £50/t difference between selling at home or exporting grain abroad will seek to secure the higher price regardless of destination.

It’s a complicated global market out there for farm inputs and outputs. We implore British shoppers to buy British by looking for the Red Tractor – yet much of the farm machinery we buy is imported. Often so too is the animal feed on which we rear our livestock.

Producers first

Explaining all this takes some doing – and I don’t believe it is our role to do so. We are producers and growers first and foremost. We should leave the communication side of things to people better able to get the farming message across than we ever can.

Yes, I applaud farmers who take part in Open Farm Sunday – but many of us do our industry more harm than good when we open our mouths. As farmers we have a reputation for moaning – whether about low prices, bad weather or anything else.

Bad reputation

Non-farming folk don’t see what we have to moan about. In their minds, farmers have plenty of land, fancy four-wheel-drive vehicles and a pleasant outdoor life. They certainly do not see the hassle, large overdrafts or the hard work for little reward.

Most people don’t want to listen anyway. Our politicians seem reluctant to commit to anything agricultural – preferring to argue among themselves. Take Brexit, for example, where promises made to farmers before the referendum now look set to be broken.

And why should people listen anyway? After all, I don’t listen to the public when the local gang of youngsters ride rough shod over my newly planted spring crops. And I do not listen when their parents assume it’s ok to do so because they have a right to roam.

In fact, farmers clash with the public most of the time. Whether it be over footpaths, fly-tipping, noise, smells or simply tractors driving along country lands. It’s perhaps just as well that we as farmers prefer not to communicate back all the time.

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